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Slow play finally getting attention it deserves

Bob Harig, ESPN.com
February 6, 2013
Pace of play is a big problem on the PGA Tour © Getty Images
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The issue of slow play regained prominence again with the horrific pace during the conclusion of the Farmers Insurance Open on January 28.

And it promises to be a subject of conversation again this week at Pebble Beach, where rounds push six hours thanks to the pro-am format.

Although there were some extenuating circumstances that Monday at Torrey Pines, and although pace of play is always going to be a challenge when amateurs fill out a foursome in a professional tournament, that doesn't make it any less exasperating.

The USGA runs only one event that PGA Tour players compete in every year, but it could yield some influence on the debate if penalties were assessed for slow play this June at Merion. That is why it was good to hear Glen Nager, the United States Golf Association president, say his organization is prepared to do something about the slow play problem that plagues the game.

"Slow play is incompatible with our modern society in which our personal time for recreation has become increasingly compressed," Nager said in his address at the USGA's annual meeting Saturday. "Slow play drains enjoyment from the game - and discourages participation.

"Pace of play is an issue that demands our complete attention."

No doubt. How the USGA goes about this will be interesting to follow because Nager gave few specifics, pointing out that coming up with the best way to proceed will take some time.

He mentioned several factors the organization will study, including course design and management as well as player management and education. Certainly there is a lot that goes into slow play and all of its issues.

But if Nager really wants to get started on this initiative, he can direct the USGA to be strict about slow play this summer when the U.S. Open heads to Merion.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, too, recently acknowledged that slow play is on his radar, and the best thing he can do is ask his field staff to vigorously enforce slow play with stroke penalties rather than fines.

At Torrey Pines, Tiger Woods played in the last threesome, and it took more than four hours to play 11 holes. Part of the problem had to do with the group in front, which got a hole behind because of various issues - although it was never put on the clock. Also, with 87 players crammed onto both nines all starting at the same time, there were bound to be issues.

But pro golf, in general, is too slow. The USGA should consider making Brandt Snedeker its fast-play spokesman. He won the FedEx Cup last year and doesn't seem bothered in the least by playing quickly. When it's Snedeker's turn, he is ready. And then he fires. He offers up a great example.

There are too few like him, and the slowpokes know what they can get away with. Even faster players, knowing they have no place to go, slow down. Although television viewers might not notice as much because the networks can bounce around between players or show shots on tape, the on-course spectator is left with a terrible experience, sometimes left to watch nothing but players standing around.

And because the average guy often emulates the pros, this trickles down to all levels of golf.

As Nager said, lack of time has contributed to many not playing golf. If I could influence a golf course operator, I'd change the name to Fast Play Golf Club and offer a food/beverage discount to anyone who completes a round in four hours. Peer pressure would be a big factor in getting a round completed on time. Rangers would have power to make groups hold back so as not to stop the speedy ones from completing their round on time.

Although some might be turned away by that approach, others would embrace it. A place known for getting you around in a reasonable time would become popular for just that reason. And then perhaps the idea would spread.

"The cry that pace of play has become one of the most significant threats to the game's health has become only louder over the last year," Nager said.

A great help could come from on top. The USGA governs the game here in the U.S., and what kind of message would it send to have the best players in the world under slow-play scrutiny? A warning followed by a two-stroke penalty would be a mighty deterrent at the US Open. Same for PGA Tour events.

At recreational levels, golfers need to get away from the idea of always posting an 18-hole score, as Nager noted.

"We must also recognize that, regardless of pace of play, many golfers simply do not have the time to play 18 holes," he said. "So we must also work to promote the nine-hole round as a complete and enjoyable golf experience.

"A nine-hole round is fully compatible with having fun and with both the rules of golf and the USGA Handicap System. Helping golf facilities better understand the benefits of offering a nine-hole option to their customers can help fill the considerable inventory of open tee times at many of our nation's courses."

It all sounds good. Now is the time for some action, as well.

This article first appeared on ESPN.com

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